These days, the alcohol industry has more to offer than ever. All of you intrepid home-bartenders have access to a vast assortment of ingredients that would have been unthinkable ten years ago. This wide selection of ingredients can be overwhelming though. Sure, you may not know exactly what to do with lavender bitters or Salers aperitif, but that’s totally fine. You don’t have to use obscure ingredients to make a great cocktail! Here is a helpful list of easy cocktails every home-bartender should know.
1. Whiskey Sour
A whiskey sour is the definitive beginner cocktail, both for ease of mixing and consumption. Whiskey sours are known for being incredibly easy to drink. There’s no shame in this though. Most people don’t start their cocktail journeys with spirit forward drinks like the Martini. A whiskey sour is essentially 2 ounces of bourbon, 3/4 ounces of lemon juice, and 1/2 ounce of simple syrup. As with most simple cocktail recipes, there are several ways that you can change this drink to make it your own. For starters, you can substitute another style of whiskey in place of the bourbon. Bourbon is typically a sweeter whiskey, with heavier caramel and vanilla notes, whereas rye whiskey is typically drier, with sharp spice notes. Similarly, you can adjust the ratio of lemon juice to simple syrup. Some popular recipes call for equal parts lemon juice to simple syrup, resulting in a sweeter drink overall. Lastly, most bartenders would argue that egg white is an essential component in a whiskey sour. The combination of the dry-shake method and egg white will result in a fluffy texture and a large foam head on top of your cocktail. Obviously, this would make the drink not vegan friendly, so keep that in mind.
2. Old Fashioned
Despite the fact that cocktail historians constantly uncover new recipes dating back further and further, it is still a popular misconception that the Old Fashioned is the original cocktail. In actuality, the Old Fashioned is an evolution of the New Orleans classic, the Sazerac. So, as a little bonus, this entry will cover both drinks, as they share the same general recipe and are both easy cocktails. In order to make a proper Old Fashioned, you will need a decent bourbon, aromatic bitters, and sugar. The drink should be built in a rocks glass and be garnished with a simple orange peel. Similarly, the Sazerac is a combination of rye whiskey or Cognac, Peychaud’s bitters, and sugar. This drink should also be built in a rocks glass, although it requires an absinthe rinse and a lemon peel as a garnish. Now, this Old Fashioned recipe is classic, but there are other versions that you may be accustomed to. If you want to make your Old Fashioned “dive-bar style,” then you muddle an orange slice in the bottom of your glass prior to building the cocktail and garnish with a maraschino cherry. Whether you want your Old Fashioned to be classic or dive-bar style, or you prefer the New Orleans version, your preference is totally valid.
Other than the Old Fashioned, the Manhattan is arguably the most popular of all of the easy cocktails with a whiskey base. Your classic Manhattan is a simple combination of bourbon, sweet vermouth, and a dash or two of aromatic bitters. A Manhattan cocktail should always be stirred, never shaken, and served up. Think of your Manhattan as the whiskey equivalent to the Martini. As with several of the drinks on this list, the Manhattan can be transformed into other cocktails with the addition of one or two different ingredients. For instance, if you substitute Scotch whisky for your bourbon, your Manhattan becomes a Rob Roy. Similarly, the addition of Campari to your Manhattan transforms it into a boulevardier. Lastly, if you replace your sweet vermouth with amaro, your Manhattan becomes a black Manhattan. Adding the Manhattan to your repertoire is a surefire way to keep the whiskey drinker in your life happy.
While it may be James Bond’s cocktail of choice, the Martini is a fairly easy cocktail to make. A traditional Martini should be a combination of gin and dry vermouth. The ratio of dry vermouth to gin is often a topic of debate, with some preferring their Martinis “dry” (little to no vermouth) and others preferring theirs “wet” (more vermouth than average). It is also common for Martini drinkers to order their drink “dirty,” meaning that the drink has the addition of olive brine. In the years since its invention, the Martini has evolved and mutated into a variety of easy cocktails. The most common variation of the classic Martini is the vodka Martini, which, as its name suggests, replaces the gin with vodka. You may also see appletinis, chocolate martinis, and a myriad of other flavored vodka based drinks. While these may share the martini title, they have little to nothing in common with a traditional gin based Martini. Lastly, it is important to ignore James Bond’s famous “shaken not stirred” Martini order. As a general rule, spirit forward cocktails like the Martini that contain no fruit juice will always be stirred, not shaken. So, please stir your Martinis to avoid over-diluting your drinks.
This classic Italian drink originated in Florence in the early 1900’s and has since gained popularity worldwide for its bitter and refreshing flavor. Be careful with your Negroni consumption though, because, as with the other easy cocktails on this list, they are much stronger than you might think. A Negroni is a simple concoction made up of equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. The garnish would traditionally be an orange peel or orange slice, but you can always get creative. The simplicity and strength of the Negroni has earned it a bit of a cult following, with Portland, Oregon’s Imbibe Magazine putting on an annual “Negroni Week.” During this week long celebration, bartenders are encouraged to make the most creative (and sometimes outlandish) Negroni variations they can think of. Previously, the bartenders at Chapel Tavern in Reno, Nevada have made Negroni sundaes with sweet vermouth ice cream, strawberry gin, and Campari syrup. With a cocktail as simple and delicious as the Negroni, you can afford to get creative!
The margarita is one of the most commonly misunderstood easy cocktails. When shopping for margarita supplies, customers often gravitate towards a margarita mix, a premade margarita, or even that dreaded bottle of sour mix. Making a margarita is incredibly simple. As fictional super-spy Sterling Archer aggressively puts it, “Five ingredients: Tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, ice, kosher salt!” The ratio is generally two parts Tequila to one part Cointreau and lime juice, but this can be adjusted depending on your personal taste. The kosher salt is generally just used to rim your glass, but you can also add a touch of salt to the cocktail itself to give it an extra kick. The difference between a proper margarita and the sugary concoction you’ll get with a margarita mix is astronomical. Without a doubt, the end result is worth the extra time it takes to make the drink.
7. Moscow Mule
The Moscow Mule may have been invented as a ploy to sell more ginger beer, but it has grown to become a staple at bars across the world. The Moscow Mule is arguably the simplest of the easy cocktails on this list. Fill a mug with ice and add two ounces of vodka. Top your drink with three to four ounces of ginger beer and then squeeze the juice of half a lime into your drink. It’s really that easy. Like the other drinks on this list, the Moscow Mule has several variations. For instance, if you trade out the vodka for bourbon, then you have a Kentucky Mule. If you want to chase the green fairy, you can always replace the vodka with absinthe and make a Bohemian Mule. You can essentially add your spirit of choice to a Mule cocktail.
Given its reputation and price point, Cognac is generally excluded from mixology. Its exclusion is unfortunate, however, because Cognac has a rich flavor that stands up to other ingredients. The Sidecar is one of the few easy cocktails that calls for Cognac. Of course, you can use another style of brandy if you wish, but the Cognac really does bring something special to the mixture. The Sidecar is a mixture of Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice. One of this drink’s signature details is its sugar rim garnish. The sugar adds an extra pop of sweetness to counteract the citrus in the cocktail, creating a balanced and easy-drinking cocktail that should be palatable for just about everyone.
The Daiquiri is the essential rum cocktail. Its recipe has become a mantra for rum bars around the world – rum, sugar, lime. Easy cocktails like the Daiquiri can come with minor complications – namely choosing the right rum. You should avoid rums that are overly sweet or flavored. Definitely avoid the intensely funky flavors of rhum agricole. Foursquare’s Probitas (Veritas for those of you outside the United States) is a blend of Bajan and Jamaican rum and creates a beautiful Daiquiri. Assuming you choose the right rum, creating your Daiquiri should be as easy as adding lemon juice and demerara syrup to your rum and shaking the mixture over ice. It is a common misconception that the Daiquiri has to be blended, sugary hangover-fuel. If you’ve never had the pleasure of drinking a true Daiquiri, you’re missing out!
10. Corpse Reviver No. 2
Originally thought to be a hangover cure, the Corpse Reviver No. 2 has grown to be a favorite of cocktail enthusiasts and absinthe lovers. Of the easy cocktails on this list, the Corpse Reviver No. 2 is the most challenging to mix. The difficulty of this drink doesn’t come from the mixing process itself, but rather from the rarity of some of the ingredients. A Corpse Reviver No. 2 is made using equal parts dry gin, Cocchi Americano, Cointreau, and lemon juice. Add these ingredients to a shaker tin and shake until mixed thoroughly. Once you’re satisfied with the mixture, strain your drink into an absinthe coated stemmed glass. Depending on your location, proper absinthe and Cocchi Americano can be difficult to find. If you cannot find good absinthe, you can always use pastis or anisette in its place, although these liqueurs will make your cocktail more sweet. Similarly, you can use Lillet Blanc instead of Cocchi Americano, but it is the sweeter option. Assuming you can find the proper ingredients though, the Corpse Reviver No. 2 is an incredibly easy cocktail to make that will surprise guests and add some pageantry to your evening.